- Cooper, Gordon, Jr.
▪ 2005American astronaut (b. March 6, 1927, Shawnee, Okla.—d. Oct. 4, 2004, Ventura, Calif.), made history as one of the most enduring names in the U.S. space program. Cooper was one of seven pilots chosen for the Mercury series of one-man spacecraft, and he was the youngest member of the first generation of American manned spaceflight. Before NASA selected him from more than 100 candidates in April 1959, Cooper earned a B.S. in aeronautical engineering (1956) from the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and served as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base, California. Cooper, whose nickname “Gordo” was immortalized in the book (1979) and film (1983) The Right Stuff, spent four years watching his fellow astronauts reach for the stars before his turn came on May 15, 1963. Piloting the capsule Faith 7 on the final Mercury mission, he set a U.S. record by completing 22 orbits of the Earth and remaining in space for 34 hours and 20 minutes. When the capsule's automatic landing system failed on reentry, Cooper manually guided it to within eight kilometres (five miles) of his U.S. Navy recovery ship. He made history again on Aug. 21, 1965, when he commanded the Gemini 5 mission and became the first person to reach orbit twice. Although equipment problems caused them to fall one hour shy of that mission's eight-day target, Cooper and fellow astronaut Charles Conrad were successful in conducting a series of experiments and exercises that paved the way for the Apollo program. At the time of his retirement from the air force in 1970, Cooper had amassed more than 225 hours in space and had served as backup commander for the Gemini 12 and Apollo 10 missions. His memoir, Leap of Faith: An Astronaut's Journey into the Unknown (2000), caused a stir with claims of UFO contact and government cover-ups.
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